Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.
The Pattern for Missions
Now there were prophets and teachers at Antioch, in the church that was there: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for Me for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted, prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away -Acts 13:1-3
The first missionaries to be ordained in the New Testament Church were Paul and Barnabas. It is very important to see that they were ordained in a Church. The Holy Spirit did not come to Paul and Barnabas individually and appoint them. Rather, God worked through the local body there at Antioch. This is not to say that God does not “call” missionaries. Certainly, those who are called to work in missions will have a desire for the work. But the point I wish to emphasize is that God works through the local church. Even the Apostle Paul is not sent out under his authority but under the local church.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Matthew 28:18
Christ has all authority but He has not assumed complete authority over the world yet. He will do so at His return. But that does not mean that He has no authority on the earth. He reigns in the Church and in those who are a part of His Church.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world. Hebrews 1:1-2
It is in the Bible that we find the commands and guidelines of Christ for His Church. The Scriptures are our only authority for worship and ministry. If we would seek to do mission work, we must follow the commands and examples in Scripture. It is not that Scripture is one of many sources of authority but rather it is the only source of authority for the Church. It was the battle cry of the Reformation that “Scripture alone” has jurisdiction over the Church.
The Modern Missions Movement
William Carey is considered to be the father of the Modern Missions Movement. It was through his writings and preaching that the Baptist Mission Society was formed. This missionary organization was formed by 12 pastors of Particular Baptist Churches. The positive aspect is that this organization was established by pastors of local churches. The negative aspect is that the BMS became the pattern for establishing missionary societies apart from a local church. Quickly mission work was delegated to para-church organizations and was no longer under the oversight of elders.
There are two major types of missionary societies today. There is the denominational missionary-sending organization and there is the independent missionary society. Granted, there are still missionaries who are sent by a local church but they are rare. Both the denominational as well as independent missionary societies are overseen by a board of trustees or the like. These boards operate independently of any local church.
Dangers and Corrections
When ministry becomes divorced from the Church, Biblical authority is absent and there is no accountability. As of this writing, the Church in the US is still shaking from the shock waves of a well-known apologist of a para-church organization whose sinful behavior had been ongoing for decades. The scandal could have been prevented altogether or at the least, the damage minimized had there been elders overseeing the ministry. *
The common reason for the formation of missionary societies is that an individual church does not have the finances to support a missionary, much less numerous missions. While this is a real concern, it does not necessarily follow that those para-church organizations are the best alternative. Fellowships of like-minded churches could support a missionary sent by a sister church. In this way, the missionary is trained, vetted, and overseen by one local church while supported financially by many churches. The sending church could receive and transfer the support money to the missionary. And the sending church could provide accountability and direct care to the missionary.
Much could be said about the many successes and failures of the MMM. And there is no doubt, that God has used it for the good. But the movement of mission work to para-church organizations is clearly without Biblical warrant and a recipe for disaster. I am sure that some would argue that these organizations have been used for the greater good. But I find that to be a moot point. Any good done by these groups does not justify the fact that they are not God-ordained to the task. The question is are we pragmatists or Biblicists?
* Ravi Zacharias International Ministries